I was thinking about binary structures. Now I know what youʼre thinking…thrilling, this topic is absolutely awe-inspiring. Well, let me just confirm your initial thoughts, a few months ago I started wondering about labels and how society grouped people into certain categories. The more I studied the complexities of people the more I saw society desiring to heap individuals into what appeared to be easy to explain opposing groups, i.e. you are either black or white, male or female, straight or gay, liberal or conservative, etc. For some reason, society seems hell bent on making complex beings easily defined and categorized. In other words, it tries to make people conform to something that does not actually exist. The binary structure leaves no room for the bi-racial person, the bi-sexual, the transgendered individual, or the moderate. Worse, it pits one against the other, trying to make the individual or the community believe one side has to be greater than the other.
Once recognizing binary structures in action, through social injustice and marginalization, it was like seeing the Matrix for the very first time and now I could see through no other lenses. Well needless to say my close friends and family got quite tired of hearing about binary structures and how they play into gender inequality, sexual orientation discrimination, racial marginalization and blah blah blah. Patiently my father would listen to my rants about how the binary system should be destroyed and we should take up the banner of the almighty spectrum, I could almost hear his eyes glazing over.
Well like all passions, the fire needs to be constantly tended in order to continue thriving, and wouldnʼt ya know, I just did not seem to find the time needed to stoke that fire, much to the joy of my friends and family. However, it is funny how our passions can be rekindled if allowed.
This past week, I spent two days in orientation seminars for my supervised year at Brite. The supervised year is where a student has an opportunity to have their work evaluated by peers, a trained supervisor and a lay training committee. All of this work rooted in the hope that the student will continue to grow into their ministry and that the church will grow alongside the student.
During the presentations, one gentleman was referred to numerous times, Dr. John Hull. Dr. Hull is the Emeritus Professor of Religious Education at the University of Birmingham, UK, and focuses on practical theology. In his classes, he teaches about the Five Marks of Christian Mission. In short, the first three focus on spirituality and the last two focus on what we could call social justice. AH HA! Says I, another binary. Fortunately, Dr. Hull was way ahead of me and emphasized the importance of all five marks being integrated. Without spirituality there can be no justice. With no justice what is spirituality? This is something I have struggled with for a while now. How do I be faithful and socially aware? In a society that is so willing to place black and white, male and female, straight and gay at opposing poles, it instantaneously does the same thing with spirituality and social justice. Either you are a religious person or you care about people, the environment, health care, etc. Harsh statement perhaps, but I wonder how many people think about it in just that way. I wonder how quick we are to hand over social justice to secular society or spirituality to those groups who focus on what is to come? Why the either or? Why not both? Again, as a firm believer in the spectrum I acknowledge the vast multiplicity in which this combination could occur. But, I wonder how many issues could be addressed, problems solved if only these two were seen as complementary rather than opposing forces.
I will close with this, a quote from the most recent issue of Christian Century. The article speaks to the need for a worships revolution and says, “conservative churches that are infused with the bouncy brand of American optimism one finds in sales pitches are selling shit. It means those liberal churches that go months without mentioning the name of Jesus, much less the dying Christ, have no more spiritual purpose or significance than a local union hall. It means that we-those of us who call ourselves Christians-need a revolution in the way we worship.”1 Shall we dream a better dream filled with living out the gospel message by doing community project or do we continue on pitting faith versus service?
1 Mark Christian Century, August 22, 2012,